Wife of Confederate General Dodson Ramseur
Ellen ‘Nellie’ Richmond was born on December 28, 1840, at Milton, North Carolina, daughter of Caleb Hazard and Mary Dodson Richmond. Stephen Dodson Ramseur was born on May 31, 1837, son of Jacob and Lucy Ramseur of Lincolnton, North Carolina. Reared in the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont region, young Ramseur – known as “Dodson” to his friends – possessed a unique combination of personal gentleness of feeling and reckless daring.
Image: General Dodson Ramseur
As a teenager, Ramseur briefly attended school in Milton, a North Carolina community near the Virginia line. He visited his aunt and uncle Caleb and Mary Richmond at Woodside, their home near Milton, and got to know their daughter Nellie at that time. He corresponded with her regularly during his days at West Point.
Raised in a devout Presbyterian home, Ramseur attended Presbyterian Davidson College, where he befriended the mathematics professor, Daniel Harvey Hill, another future Confederate general. With former West Pointer Hill’s recommendation, Dodson Ramseur won appointment to West Point, and graduated 14th out of 41 cadets in the class of 1861, the last class to graduate before the Civil War began. He chose the artillery, so he could stay in the East, and was commissioned a second lieutenant just before the start of the war.
Ramseur resigned from the United States Army in April 1861, and did not wait for his native state to follow them, but rushed to Montgomery, Alabama, and joined the Confederate army. However, he was soon elected to captain of the Ellis Light Artillery of Raleigh, North Carolina, and he rushed back to join his new unit in time to fire the opening salute – one hundred cannon blasts – on the lawn of the state capitol when the Tarheel State voted to leave the Union. He broke his collarbone when he was thrown from his horse in July and was out of service until the following spring.
The 49th North Carolina Infantry regiment was mustered in near Ramseur’s home on April 12, 1862. Ramseur, always ambitious, successfully pursued an appointment as its colonel, and he left his artillery battery to take command of the new regiment. After two months of drill, the regiment was summoned to Richmond to help drive USA General George B. McClellan’s army away from the Confederate capital.
There they saw their first heavy combat during the Peninsula Campaign at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, the last of the Seven Days’ Battles. Ramseur led a futile charge against strong Union defenses and was severely wounded in the right arm by a Minie ball. At first he refused to leave his men, but was finally removed to a hospital. His arm mangled and paralyzed, Ramseur returned home to recuperate.
Ramseur stayed withhis aunt and uncle, Caleb and Mary Richmond, at their stately home, Woodside, while recuperating from the injuries he received at Malvern Hill. While there, he fell in love with Nellie, a small attractive brunette of similarly strong Presbyterian faith. To him, she was his “long cherished ideal of womanly perfection.” Before he left, Ramseur proposed marriage, Nellie accepted, and they became engaged.
Meanwhile, casualties at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, brought an opportunity for promotion. General George B. Anderson had been mortally wounded there, and General Robert E. Lee selected Ramseur to take command of Anderson’s brigade of four North Carolina regiments – 2nd, 4th, 14th, and 30th – in General Robert E. Rodes’ division of General T.J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson‘s corps.
Promoted to brigadier general on November 1, 1862, Ramseur, at age twenty-five, was the youngest general in the Confederate army. This was a remarkable promotion for someone who had missed so many battles, but General Lee had been very impressed by Ramseur’s aggressive performance at Malvern Hill. Ramseur did not take command immediately — his arm, still in a sling, healed slowly and caused him a great deal of pain.
By December 1862, his severely injured right arm still wrapped in a sling, Ramseur was back with the army. In his letter of Christmas Day, scrawled with his left hand, Ramseur conveyed his undying devotion to “the source of all my joys, how infinitely much I owe to you, how inexpressibly (sic) much I love you for all this newfound happiness.”
Come spring, Ramseur returned to the saddle, but was eagerly anticipating a summer wedding, ached to return as well to Nellie, waiting for him at Woodside. “I must overcome these longings,” he wrote. “Duty, stern and high, must reign supreme.”
Ramseur cut an inspiring figure, carrying his slim, slight frame with a martial erectness; he attempted to disguise the boyishness of his face by growing a black beard and wearing his hair in a buzz cut. His speech was direct and brisk. Though intensely ambitious, he hid his vanity from public view – he had only one photograph taken during the war. “He abhorred newspaper puffs, gotten up to make a false reputation for those not worthy of it,” reported a friend. Ramseur, however, was not indifferent to newspapers. In letters home, he asked friends to clip all his notices.
Ramseur remained profoundly devout; once, at a moment of battlefield crisis, he turned to his courier and in a sudden outburst shouted, “Damn it, tell them to send me a battery! I have sent for one a half a dozen times.” He then stopped short, threw up both arms, looked upward and in the hearing of his entire brigade said, “God Almighty, forgive me that oath.”
At Chancellorsville, his brigade marched with General Jackson on his famous flanking maneuver of May 2, 1863, against the Union right. Leading his brigade forward against the advice of fearful fellow officers, Ramseur strode over the prostrate bodies of fellow Rebels who had lost the heart for attack.
His command plunged into sheets of fire, running over Yankee breastworks with a shout. However, the brigade soon ran short of ammunition, exposed and alone in front. Ramseur’s predicament finally galvanized the Stonewall Brigade to come to his support and consolidate the gains made by his men. Ramseur’s Brigade lost more than half its men at Chancellorsville, the heaviest casualties of any Rebel brigade in the battle.
General J.E.B. Stuart, in temporary command of the corps after Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded, ordered three cheers for Ramseur’s North Carolinians when they emerged from the fighting, and declared that Ramseur deserved a major general’s commission, but this would not happen for another year.
Ramseur himself was wounded again – hit in the shin by a shell fragment on the evening of May 3, painfully hobbling him, but not as serious as the injury he received at Malvern Hill. He was, however, temporarily transferred to Danville and made a trip to Milton, where he spent a blissful week with Nellie.
In return for this bravery and sacrifice, Ramseur and his brigade won plaudits from Lee, Jackson, Stuart, A.P. Hill, Anderson, Rodes, and Pender – all had come away deeply impressed by Ramseur’s handling of his command. Dodson Ramseur was suddenly a star in the Army of Northern Virginia.
General Lee wrote about Ramseur’s brigade after the battle:
I consider its brigade and regimental commanders as among the best of their respective grades in the army, and in the battle of Chancellorsville, where the brigade was much distinguished and suffered severely, General Ramseur was among those whose conduct was especially commended to my notice by Lieutenant General Jackson, in a message sent to me after he was wounded.
Though still able to use only one arm, Ramseur was fully aware of the great expectations surrounding him, and was sure he could meet them. General Dana Harvey Hill stated that Ramseur “reveled in the fierce joys of strife,” and that “his whole being seemed to kindle and glow amid the excitements of danger.” His only distraction was his constant struggle against the urge to return home to Nellie [Ellen]. “I must overcome these longings,” he wrote. Duty, “stern and high, must reign supreme.”
In the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 1, 1863, being last in the line of march, Ramseur’s Brigade was held in reserve when Rodes’ Division moved onto Oak Hill about 1:00 in the afternoon of July 1 against the right flank of the Union I Corps on Seminary Ridge. The failed attacks by the brigades of Generals Alfred Iverson and Edward O’Neal required Ramseur to move forward to keep the assault from petering out.
Ramseur pushed his North Carolinians forward about 3:00 against the disorganized, exhausted, and ammunition-depleted Yankees, who had repulsed the earlier assaults. Rather than hitting the enemy head-on, Ramseur swung around to the left, across the Mummasburg Road, and hit the defenders in the rear.
After being assaulted by Ramseur, the Yankees “ran off the field in confusion, leaving [their] killed and wounded and between 800 and 900 prisoners in our hands.” Ramseur pursued the routed enemy through the west side of town, but to the dismay of his men, Rodes ordered Ramseur to halt before he could assault the enemy rallying point on Cemetery Hill. The first day’s fighting had come to a close, and Ramseur’s men camped in the streets of the town.
In the late afternoon of July 2, Rodes wheeled the entire division from the streets of the town into the Long Lane to the southwest, facing Cemetery Hill, the target of the attack, about 500 yards away. At that point, Rodes told Ramseur that the other brigades would form on his, and that he, Ramseur, was effectively in command of the attack. The maneuver was so time-consuming that it was dark before all the brigades were in position. Rodes called for them to return to the Long Lane.
The attack would never be made. Two brigades were detached from the division during the night, and Ramseur, along with Doles and Iverson, were too weak to do anything but man their line in the Long Lane on July 3. Rodes’ division sat idle just northwest of Cemetery Hill and retreated to Virginia with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia.
After Gettysburg, the army returned to Virginia, and Ramseur’s thoughts turned to Milton, where he hoped to wed Nellie on September 17, 1863. But, with yet another Union army massing in Virginia along the Rappahannock River, poised to strike southward at the Confederate capital of Richmond, Ramseur, his leave papers in hand, felt compelled to remain with his men.As fate would have it, no major engagement took place that fall, save for a brisk skirmish at Bristoe Station. As Ramseur’s brigade was preparing to go into winter quarters near Orange Court House, he obtained a leave of absence to go home.
On October 28, 1863, Dodson Ramseur married Nellie Richmond in the parlor at Woodside. The newlyweds honeymooned for three weeks in the mountains of North Carolina. After spending some time with Nellie’s family and at his home in Lincolnton, Ramseur again joined his brigade.
A cold, wet winter set in, all but guaranteeing a cessation of hostilities until the spring of 1864. This allowed Dodson and Nellie to pass three glorious months together as husband and wife. He engaged lodging for himself and his bride in a boardinghouse two miles from the Confederate camp on the Rapidan River. And just before leaving his side in the first week of April, Nellie told Dodson she was pregnant.
By early May 1864, the fighting had resumed. The Battle of the Wilderness marked the beginning of General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign in Virginia. On May 7, 1864, Ramseur’s brigade smashed into and drove back the troops of USA General Ambrose Burnside‘s IX Corps over a half mile. Both Lee and corps commander General Richard Ewell praised his gallant attack.
At Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, Ramseur led a decisive counterattack after an assault on the Mule Shoe by General Winfield S. Hancock’s II Corps, driving the Union forces from a salient in the Confederate line known as the Bloody Angle. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting, some of the most intense of the war, lasted for more than twenty hours.
General Dodson Ramseur faced a roller coaster ride of triumph and disappointment in the summer of 1864. In June, he was promoted to major general, becoming the youngest West Point graduate to be given that rank in the Confederate Army. He assumed command of General Jubal Early’s division when that general took over General Richard Ewell’s corps after Spotsylvania. Ramseur wrote confidently to his wife soon after, hoping to continue “making a reputation” as an excellent combat leader.
Leading General Jubal Early’s old division, Ramseur marched west to the Shenandoah Valley to draw Union forces away from Petersburg, in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. He participated in the small army’s victories at Lynchburg and Monocacy. Then General Grant sent cavalry General Philip Sheridan to drive Early from the Valley.
Ramseur’s reputation was tarnished at Rutherford’s Farm on July 19, 1864, when he was defeated by a numerically inferior Union force under William W. Averell, and saw his forces routed from the field. It was the first time a Confederate general had lost a battle in the Shenandoah Valley in over two years. Ramseur soon redeemed himself at the Second Battle of Kernstown by delivering a devastating flank attack. He also performed well at Third Winchester, but the Rebels lost the battle.
On September 19, 1864, Sheridan attacked the Confederates at the Third Battle of Winchester. Ramseur’s division was routed by a strong Union assault near Stephenson’s Depot; Ramseur allegedly wept openly and immaturely blamed his men for the retreat. His former commander General Rodes was mortally wounded.
But more was on his mind those early fall days than military matters. Nellie was ready to deliver their first child. “As the day approaches,” he wrote, “I grow more and more anxious to be with you. But these recent battles and defeats will render it almost impossible for me to leave this army.”
On the evening of October 15, 1864, Confederate signal masters along the Massanutten range excitedly wig-wagged a message to General Early’s army, camped near Fisher’s Hill. Ramseur’s beloved wife Nellie had given birth and all was well. Ramseur, 27, was not informed that the baby was a girl, but she was soon to be christened Mary Dodson. Three days later, the proud father wrote out his will.
In a surprise attack at dawn on October 19, Early’s army routed two thirds of the Union army at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Ramseur’s troops struck hard and fast at Federal positions along the Creek. Major Henry Kyd Douglas heard the general cry out as he led his men into battle, “Let’s drive ’em, Douglas, for I must get a furlough to see my little wife and new baby.”
But the Confederate troops were hungry and exhausted, and they fell out of their ranks to pillage the Union camp. Ramseur managed to corral a few hundred soldiers out of his division and stood with them in the center of the line as Sheridan counterattacked. Ramseur displayed great bravery in rallying his troops, but he was mounted conspicuously on horseback and drew continuous fire.
In the swirling combat along Cedar Creek and around the Belle Grove plantation, Ramseur was wounded in the arm and his horse was shot out from under him. His second horse was also killed. On a third horse, Ramseur was shot through both lungs and fell. Ramseur was carried to the rear, and during the Confederate retreat, he was left in Northern hands.
Shortly thereafter, Ramseur was taken to Belle Grove Mansion, General Sheridan’s headquarters. Union doctors and a captured Confederate surgeon attended to Ramseur but could not save him. He was given large doses of laudanum to blunt the pain. Friends from his West Point days, Union officers Henry Du Pont and George Armstrong Custer, rushed to his bedside. Ramseur drifted in and out consciousness, at times calling for Nellie and the baby.
Image: Ramseur Monument
Cedar Creek, Virginia
General Dodson Ramseur died of battle wounds at 10:20 the next morning, October 20, 1864, after requesting that a lock of his hair be sent to his wife. His last words were, “Bear this message to my precious wife – I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.” He was surrounded by his classmates from West Point when he died.
Ramseur’s family was crushed by the news of his death. His assistant adjutant, R.R. Hutchinson, wrote to Nellie: “He told me to tell you that he had a firm hope in Christ and trusted to meet you hereafter. He died as became a Confederate soldier and a firm believer.”
Federal troops returned Ramseur’s body to a boyhood friend, Confederate Major General Robert F. Hoke. His body lay in state briefly in the capitol at Richmond, then went by train home to Lincolnton. He is buried there at St. Luke’s Episcopal Cemetery. Nellie and infant daughter Mary could not travel from her family’s home to the funeral.
General Jubal Early’s account of Ramseur at Cedar Creek:
Major General Ramseur fell into the hands of the enemy, mortally wounded, and in him not only my command, but the country, suffered a heavy loss. He was a most gallant and energetic officer whom no disaster appalled, but his courage and energy seemed to gain new strength in the midst of confusion and disorder. He fell at his post fighting like a lion at bay, and his native State has reason to be proud of his memory.
Nellie Ramseur never remarried; she remained with her family at Woodside, and wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. She died on May 27, 1900, at the age of fifty-nine, at her sister’s home in Concord, North Carolina. She had been an invalid for two years.
The parlor at Woodside where Ellen and Dodson were married is appropriately named the Ramseur Parlor. Their portraits are highlighted in two recessed alcoves in remembrance of their tragic love story. An historic marker stands in the front yard to honor General Ramseur.
Daughter Mary Ramseur never married; she became an art instructor at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. On September 16, 1920, she came to the Shendandoah Valley to dedicate amemorial to her father, sponsored by the North Carolina Historical Commission, at the head of the drive leading to Belle Grove. She died at the age of seventy-one in 1935.
The town of Ramseur in eastern Randolph County, North Carolina, is named in General Stephen Dodson Ramseur’s honor. Stephen Dodson Ramseur: Lee’s Gallant General by Gary Gallagher was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1995.
North Carolina and The Civil War
Wikipedia: Stephen Dodson Ramseur
Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur
The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle by Larry Tagg. Brigadier General Stephen Dodson Ramseur
America’s Civil War: George Custer and Stephen Ramseur